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Team owner Bruce Levenson says Thrashers not moving from Atlanta

ATLANTA - The Atlanta Thrashers have had "several inquiries" from possible investors, but have not had talks about moving the team.

One of the team's owners, Washington businessman Bruce Levenson, said Monday "there is no truth to the rumour" the ownership group has been involved in discussions about taking the team out of Atlanta, including with a Vancouver group reportedly interested in relocating the Thrashers to Hamilton.

The Hamilton Spectator reported on Saturday that Vancouver developer Tom Gaglardi heads a group interested in moving the Thrashers to Canada. There also are efforts to move the Phoenix Coyotes to Hamilton.

Levenson said his Atlanta Spirit LLC ownership group, which also owns the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and operating rights to Philips Arena, recently hired an agency to "explore inquiries" from possible investors.

He said there are ongoing talks but added "none involve moving either team."

Seven of the owners based in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., want to buy out Steve Belkin, who is based in Boston.

The effort led to a long, ongoing legal fight and also prompted a search for new investors, according to Levenson.

"We have received several such inquiries, some targeted at the purchase of Steve Belkin's interest in the wake of publicity regarding our litigation," Levenson told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

The unsettled litigation between Belkin and the other owners would make it difficult for the Thrashers to move from Atlanta. Another barrier is the team's commitment to Philips Arena.

The ownership split began in 2005 over Belkin's objection to the Hawks' decision to trade Boris Diaw, two first-round draft picks and a US$4.9 million trade exception to the Phoenix Suns for guard Joe Johnson.

Court documents associated with the case have revealed the teams have lost nearly US$174 million since the 2002-03 seasons, including more than US$50 million in the last two years.

Johnson, a three-time all-star with the Hawks, led Atlanta to the conference semifinals this season for the first time since 1999.

One of the owners, Atlanta-based Michael Gearon Jr., said the ownership group provides a wider financial foundation to help the Hawks and Thrashers survive the recession.

"The biggest challenge we have is the distraction of Belkin and getting that resolved," Gearon said during the Hawks' first-round playoff series win over Miami. "I think that's probably the biggest issue.

"We don't have any debt on the team. As much as people critique what's going on in Atlanta, we have no debt," he added. "Most teams in the NBA have debt. That doesn't mean we may not access debt.

"It just means we have a lot of options when it comes to trying to invest in the product. We've got flexibility. We'll just see what happens."


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